Net Yaroze Class 2000
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Net Yaroze Class 2000
- Net Yaroze
Way back in the Christmas 2000 edition of Edge we gathered together eight upcoming developers whose paths down the game-making road had benefited thanks to their association with Sony’s Net Yaroze. This initiative – a £550 piece of tweaked PlayStation 1 hardware along with dev tools and the means to hook it up to PCs/Macs, together with an online support network – is sometimes forgotten in the PlayStation story, but it was a vital tool in the birth of the careers of many console programmers, and its influence is still being felt today through endeavors such as Microsoft’s XNA program. It wasn’t something Sony needed to invent, but few who experienced it would say that their lives aren’t richer because of it.
Today, we’re sitting in an upmarket pie-and-mash joint in Soho to catch up with four of those faces from eight years ago. Together, they have some valuable advice for anyone looking to follow in their footsteps.
How significant was it that Net Yaroze was a PlayStation product?
Robert Swan (Then: programmer, SCEE, Now: lead coder, Nik Nak): When I look back at the Yaroze there were a number of things I wasn’t aware of that made it as useful as it was. The Sony brand was attractive, the fact that there was a proper support system was attractive, and then you had a filter, which was the cost of it, that was really valuable.
Even today, eight years on, with people who are trying to make games at home, they go to the support websites for PC game-makers, for example, and there’s a lot of noise there – you know, 90 percent of the people are saying, ‘I’ve got this great idea for a game – all I need is a programmer, an artist, five designers, all unpaid for two years. By the way, I’m the company owner, and I have nothing to contribute’.
So the cost of the Yaroze filtered people out, and what was left was people who were actually going to really try to make games. Sometimes we didn’t get very far, but there was the expectation of trying to get support and getting it, and that was very valuable.
What are your fondest memories from the Yaroze period?
Charles Chapman (Then: founder, Live Media, Now: founder & tech director, Exient): ECTS was probably the highlight, I think – seeing your game on a major stand. It was a little hidden away but it was something that people were seeing, and it was on two big screens. I’d never seen the game on a TV as big as that, let alone being seen by so many people. And everything that went with it – we all got tickets to the Sony party that night, and there was a feeling that this was the industry; this was kind of what we’re getting into now. I met lots of people through that.
George Bain (Then: engineer, SCEE, Now: developer relations account manager, SCEE): I think it was definitely the start of something special, and it was going to lead to a huge community of new programmers in the industry with console programming experience. It was a first, and I think it helped generate programmers for PlayStation, not just for Sony but for various other companies, so that in itself was a huge success – it literally created hundreds of programmers who could go on and get a job in the industry. It was a huge benefit.
How important do you think it is for Sony and Microsoft to provide platforms today that will help foster the next generation of game-development talent?
RS: I think it makes good business sense for them to do so. I’ve been interviewing so many people and there are not enough good programmers out there. Years ago it used to be that people just didn’t know what to do. Now they go on courses and I’m becoming pretty critical of a lot of the games courses out there. I’m interviewing a lot of graduates who, if they really cared, would have done extracurricular work, but they haven’t. I get a lot of people with a CV that says ‘I’ve done x, y and z’, and it looks good, but you get them in and they’ve done nothing in their spare time. The degree is misrepresenting what is being taught, and the interview is wasted. I cannot hire enough good graduates.
What’s the solution?
RS: There are a variety of issues. There are government initiatives and accreditation and skillsets that I’m getting into. I think university courses need to change, and that’s something that I’m also slowly getting into. I’ve started being in touch with various universities, and they’re fertile places. A lot of them want to be steered in the right direction – they just don’t know where they’re going, so they’re picking a direction and the graduates are unemployable.
They are literally unemployable?
RS: They cannot program.
GB: I think the problem is that Net Yaroze and XNA, etc, are very good and very popular, but you can’t just have a university degree and say that you’ve done something on XNA or whatever in order to get a job. A lot of it is down to self-taught programming. I’m still skeptical whether or not a university can teach you what someone can do at home by themselves with the good resources we have on the internet now. There are so many books you can buy now, and there’s so much knowledge on the web right now compared to how it was in ’97. There were hardly any websites in ’97 which had any information about game programming, but nowadays there are so many resources you can use.
When you’re looking for new game coders, what sort of demos are you looking for them to show you?
CC: Coders always come with a firstperson shooter demo or a graphics demo that shows something you’ve seen 20 times before. If you’re showing a graphics demo it has to be something that’s different. Or just show a completed game. Actually, it doesn’t need to be a whole game – just something you can play with. We had a guy who’d done some kind of sheepdog simulation – it was just a load of dots on the screen, but he left it with us and for 20 minutes afterwards we just played around with this thing. There probably wasn’t much code behind it, but it was fun.
GB: It’s very difficult to stand out now, I think. There’s so much knowledge now, so many programmers, so much competition, so many teenagers who want to get into the industry. You’ve got to be really good or you’re going to struggle to get into the industry. You’ve got to come up with something original to catch someone’s eye. I’m glad I got in when I did, put it that way. [Laughter]
If you could go back in time and give your Yaroze-using self any advice, what would it be?
RS: Think about time management. As a student, you leave things until the last minute, and that doesn’t cut it in jobs.
But in game development, isn’t there a tendency for things to concertina towards the end of the schedule?
RS: They do naturally but they shouldn’t. There’s nothing in software design that says that’s the pattern you have to follow. Individuals shouldn’t start with that attitude.
What’s your take on XNA?
CC: I think it’s a very easy way for people to get involved, but sometimes it’s too easy. From my point of view I’d rather it was based on C++, but the fact that it’s out there and picking up a community is better than nothing. Microsoft are looking after themselves a little basing it on C#, because they want to promote that language, but if you were them you would do the same thing. They’ve got this whole thing that they announced at GDC where they’re going to have the big forum and the community and so on, and it’s great, it’s interesting, but how much finished stuff will get there remains to be seen.
I also think that probably a fair amount of stuff on there is actually by professional game developers, anyway: they’ve got their own idea, they’re doing it own their own time, and they’ll stick it on under a pseudonym. Some of the really good stuff may well turn out to be written by John Carmack or whoever. It will give established people an opportunity to try something with no risks, but that’s obviously not what it was designed for. And who knows exactly what it is designed for? Only Microsoft can tell us.
So XNA experience isn’t something you’d be looking for on a CV.
RS: I don’t know much about XNA but the thing is it shouldn’t replace C++ learning. Console development is C++, and if people are coming out with expectations because they’ve got this XNA stuff on their degree, it’s not good enough. It’s the icing on the cake, but it’s not significant enough in itself, and I see that a lot.
I would like to see C# as a language spread more, though, because I think it’s exceptionally productive for tools, and the game I’m doing at home in my spare time is C#-based because it’s that bit more productive. But if I didn’t know C++, I would be crippled.
James Rutherford (Then: programmer, Reflections, Now: founder, www.creativenucleus.com): You’re looking at it very much from a programmer’s angle, but maybe XNA would be very good for a designer-turned-programmer. The skills aren’t quite there if you want someone who’s a programmer, but it’s good for knocking ideas around.
What’s your opinion on the state of further education opportunities for fledgling game-makers nowadays?
RS: I think, with this being an interview, there are a lot of ways you can kind of qualify what you’re saying and say, “I don’t mean this all the time”, but I think something like education today is worthy of big, bold statements, and mine is that it’s rubbish. [Laughter] It’s really not doing what it should do. I don’t care how they present their university – they have to teach this, they have to teach that – I’m trying to hire people and they’re rubbish. It does boil down to that.
CC: I’d agree in general that an average candidate is rubbish – they can’t code. There are some exceptions and there are probably some exceptions in terms of the courses as well, so I wouldn’t want to slag them all off, but the candidates we’re getting from courses, for one reason or another, are not up to it.
RS: The situation is bad at the moment, but I think it’s getting better, and I think there’s a lot of hope for it to improve more quickly, too. There are more industry people getting involved in these courses. Sometimes they’re teaching the courses, but there are various other initiatives, too – Rare, for example, is very closely connected to a certain set of universities, and there are a couple of guys where I work who are actually connected to quite a few courses, so there’s a dialogue going on.
However, I think there is more that can be done, and that’s why I’m thinking that people like us, if we care enough, we kind of need to do something about it because the rate of change isn’t going to help me in the next three years.
- 2020-04-19 12:04:44
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